Catholic teachers caught in loophole over IR laws

Most Catholic school teachers in Victoria are exempted from unfair-dismissal provisions under the new Federal workplace laws because they are employed by parish priests.

The Age reports that in a situation unique to Victoria, nearly all Catholic primary schools and about 50 per cent of secondary colleges have staff employed by their individual parish priest and fewer than 100 employees.

Under the new "WorkChoices" legislation, employers with fewer than 100 employees are exempt from unfair-dismissal provisions.

Victorian Independent Education Union secretary Debra James said 90 per cent of teachers and support staff at Catholic schools were employed at their schools by the parish priest.

There are 390 Catholic primary schools and 100 Catholic secondary schools in the state. The other half of Catholic secondary colleges are employed by religious orders, with some orders running more than one school.

Ms James said teachers at schools run by religious orders such as the Mercy Sisters or Christian Brothers would continue to be protected by unlawful-dismissal legislation because the orders employed more than 100 staff.

"This is a situation that is unique to Victorian Catholic schools," she said. "Catholic schools are a bit of collateral damage in respect of unfair dismissal laws. When they (the Federal Government) were thinking about small business and these industrial changes to unfair dismissal, I cannot believe that they had Catholic primary schools and parish priests in mind. I don't think we were the target."

She said most cases of unfair dismissal between Catholic schools and teachers were dealt with through mediation but that might change without an appeal process.

"There is no doubt that there is a correlation between the number of cases that are settled and the impetus of arbitration in unfair-dismissal cases," Ms James said.

She said the Catholic Education Office had so far rejected the idea of creating an independent tribunal to allow review.

Melbourne Catholic Education Office spokesman Peter Annett said the office wanted to discuss a reasonable way to deal with the industrial changes, including a review process for unfair dismissals, but worried a tribunal could be too onerous.

"It is disturbing to us that, potentially, staff could possibly be treated differently as a result of these changes," Mr Annett said.

He said that few unfair-dismissal cases involving Catholic schools had made it to the Industrial Relations Commission in the past.

Catholic teachers caught in loophole (The Age 2/4/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Education Commission of Victoria
Australian Catholic Commission for Employment Relations

Commission urges Church employers to review contracts (CathNews 14/3/06)

New work laws condemned (The Tablet 1/4/06)
St Vincent de Paul committed to nurses and residents (St Vincent de Paul VIC 29/3/06)
Nurses, St Vincents fail to reach pay agreement (ABC Victoria 29/3/06)
Paul Donovan: World of work should be prioritised by the Church (Independent Catholic News 28/3/06)

3 Apr 2006